Krysten Ritter, Tom Pelphrey weigh in on series’ ‘stranger than fiction’ verdict
If you’ve been following HBO Go’s true crime series “Love & Death,” which wraps up its seven-part season today, you would have known by now why churchgoing Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen) ended up bludgeoning her jealous friend Betty Gore (Lily Rabe) with an ax 41 times.
We asked Tom Pelphrey, who’s exceptional as Candy’s defense lawyer Don Crowder, and Krysten Ritter, the “Jessica Jones” and “Breaking Bad” star who plays Candy’s loyal best friend Sherry Cleckler, what their thoughts were about the show, the polarizing verdict, and what it was like working with series star Elizabeth Olsen over their seven-month shoot. The show ends today. But if you are not familiar with the case and have yet to watch the series, be forewarned, dear readers: Proceed with caution, for spoilers are ahead.
Excerpts from our Q&A with Tom and Krysten:
How would you explain viewers’ obsession with true crime stories?
Krysten: People are drawn to the true crime genre because you can’t write that “stranger than fiction” aspect of it. This story, particularly, is pretty crazy. I mean, if this was fiction, the network would probably go, “Hmm, maybe not 41 times … ?” Or maybe Betty doesn’t end up dying in it. The fact that this was so outrageous makes it something viewers just can’t look away from. Tom: There are things that happen in true stories that give us an insight into human nature and leave us puzzled, curious or maybe a bit scared. It’s something that you can’t quite get if the story is written as a work of fiction—that’s part of why everyone is so obsessed with true crime stories.
The crime and the ensuing trial happened in the ’80s, so it’s no secret how this story plays out. What are your thoughts on the verdict? If you had been a member of the jury on that trial, what would have been your verdict on that very strange case?
Krysten: Oh, that’s a good question. It’s a very strange case, indeed … particularly with how Candy got away with it.
Tom: I think there’s reasonable doubt. I might appear biased because I got to play Don, but there’s enough physical evidence to suggest real, reasonable doubt about who attacked who first. And if Betty did attack Candy first, then it’s self- defense, or at least there’s enough to suggest that that’s within reasonable doubt with the ax being in the garage.
The fact that Candy had never been in the garage, so there’s clearly no premeditation. That’s taking Murder 1 (murders committed with intent and premeditation) off the table. Now, if you go for Murder 2 (unlawful killing done with malice, but without premeditation), that still may have been in the heat of the moment because it’s out of self-defense. And if it’s not self-defense, how then did Candy know there was an ax in the garage?
If I [were] a juror in that trial, I would have to say not guilty, in Candy’s favor, because of reasonable doubt.
Seven months is a long time to spend closely with any group of people. Any anecdotes or stories that you can share with us?
Krysten: I had a great time on set because I’m playing this fun, gossipy beautician. There was a lot of camaraderie when we were waiting for setups. I’ve known Lily Rabe for 20 years, and I became very close to Lizzie, so I made really great friends on this gig—like, it was kind of a gab fest (laughs)!
I had my son with me while we were filming in Texas, and Austin is an awesome place to be in. There are so many fun things to do with your kid, and everybody was nice in my neighborhood. When we got there, neighbors brought over banana bread and invited us over to sit around in a circle, playing guitar and eating barbecue.
As an artist, it was really fun to connect with this cast over a seven-month period—and I almost stayed (laughs)! In fact, I started looking at real estate. I had a real Texas experience, and it was a special time. And I liked the town slogan: “Keep Austin Weird!”
Tom: Yeah, I had a blast there, too. As a fun story from the set, one of the things that was just shocking to me was seeing Lizzie operate in this environment.
I started calling her “The Machine” because she was doing these monstrous, verbose, emotionally daunting scenes in one take—and I was kind of blown away by that! I’d like to think that I’m always pretty prepared and efficient as an actor, but Lizzie was simply a machine.
Krysten: We can sit and gush about Lizzie for a minute more because she really is special. Randomly, I found this new Pilates workout called Bodhi, and I convinced her to go with me every Saturday. And she would even hang out with my son. More than that, she’s just an amazing actress! She’s nice, smart and cool, but she’s also sassy, fierce and fabulous. Lizzie is truly a special pound-for-pound movie star.